I know it sounds horrible, but I was really glad when Mr. Temronick, my former guardian, had a heart attack. I mean, I didn't want the guy to be suffering or anything- it's not like I hate him, or he was cruel to me or anything. It's just that the man was so dull- and his wife too for that matter. And their home, and their town, and basically the entire situation I was forced to reside in. I'm not the kind of kid who is content to sit around watching TV and occasionally muttering something real insightful and entertaining like "Pass the chips." And that pretty much describes the Temronicks' typical days. Once in a while they'd do something really inspired and exciting like go to Wal-Mart. Now that was a rare treat.

I don't understand why they even got a foster kid- they're retired, with all their own kids grown, and they're in their sixties. They certainly never paid me much mind- I went about my business and they went about theirs. I guess they did it for the money- most people do, I have learned from personal experience.

Being a foster kid sucks at any age, but especially when you're sixteen like I am. I mean, by now you know you don't have a snowball's chance in hell of being adopted, but you're too young to support yourself yet, so you shuffle back and forth from foster home to foster home in rapid succession because no one really wants teenagers. Meanwhile, as you try to fit in at schools you'll probably spend less than a year in, you see other kids taking for granted having stuff you'll never have, being a foster kid. Things like cell phones, I-pods, cars… I'm sixteen and I don't even have a learners' permit, let alone a license, and I'll be forty before I have a car at the rate it's going. To get a car, you have to get a job to have the money for it, and you have to have a car to get to a job. And if you think the Temronicks, or any other foster parents, are willing to drive me to and from a job every day, you don't know very much at all.

I've been in and out of foster homes since I was three years old, so I'm pretty used to it all now. I'm just waiting to turn eighteen so I can be on my own… I can't wait, but at the same time I'm terrified, because I have no idea how I'll support myself. College is definitely not an option- not with foster kids.

You probably want to know why I'm in foster care. Most people do, although they usually hint around rather than asking me outright. I guess they're trying to be nosy without being obvious. You might as well ask- it doesn't really bother me. I really don't know the answer for sure myself. I was raised by my mother alone until I was three- I don't know who my dad is, or even if my mom knew. She named me Nicaela Reeves. Yes, Nicaela- not Nicole or Mikayla, but Nicaela. Don't ask because I can't tell you what she was thinking. Anyway, when I was three she left me at a babysitter's house and never came back. No one knows where she went or even if she's alive. They say she probably ran off, abandoned me- the police never found her. I like to think she wouldn't have done that, that she was killed or got in an accident or something, but what do I know. I never really knew her- I was three, remember.

Anyway, the babysitter eventually figured out she wasn't coming back, and as my mother had no known family or friends- apparently she was a really closed off person- I wound up in our country's lovely foster care system. I have been in fourteen foster homes in thirteen years, some okay, some terrible. The Temronicks were better than some- they didn't yell or threaten me or anything, they were just so boring.

So when Mr. Temronick had his heart attack, I was glad, because I knew it meant I wouldn't be staying with them anymore. I knew what my social worker, Avril, would say- she'd say it in a tactful and proper way, of course, but it would all come down to I was too much trouble for them to deal with anymore. Sure enough, not three days had passed before Avril was inviting me into her office for one of her little "discussions". This always translated to "time to move, Nicaela." Then next thing I knew it would be me and her, riding in her spotless Honda civic off to my latest "home". I was ready this time though- surely the next place had to be slightly more exciting. I mean, I felt bad for Mr. Temronick and all, but it's not like he was dead or anything- so not too bad.

I always get a kick out of riding with Avril. After thirteen years, she still doesn't know how to take me. She tries to say the kind of things she thinks one should say to a parentless teen, but her ideas of how she should talk to me are straight from some fifties movie. It's hilarious. I love to mess with her mind, saying anything I can to shock her- you should've seen her face the time I asked her how old she was when she gave up her virginity, and whether she'd ever had an affair with a woman. She's young too- only about 34 or so. I was one of her first cases ever.

One of the things that gets to her most- and that I get the biggest kick out of- is calling her Avril to her face. Her name is Ms. LeFavre, and that's what she wants me to call her, but ever since Avril Lavigne came out a few years ago I've been calling her Avril. It's the irony that kills me- they're the only two Avrils I've ever heard of, and they're so completely different. On one hand is Avril LeFavre, with her long black skirts, buttoned up shirts and tightly pulled back hair, and her proper, standard procedures. Then there's Avril Lavigne in her baggy clothes and ties, even Gothic stuff sometimes, making rude faces into any camera shoved her way. I guess you gotta know her to appreciate it. Anyway, she called me and informed me I'd be moving on to a couple in their late 30's, Anton and Penelope Demarco. I'd have to change schools again, but I'd be in the same district- not too big a move. Apparently the Demarcos already had three other foster kids, all girls. Avril didn't say how old they were, but I didn't really care. I wasn't sure how I felt about the kids bit. I'd had mixed experiences with foster siblings- some were okay, but some were real brats or even cruel. I guess I'd have to see for myself about these girls. One thing though to be glad about- with three foster sisters, I shouldn't get bored.

The car ride with Avril to the Demarcos' was interesting, to say the least. It hadn't taken me long to leave the Temronicks- I just stuffed my things, which do not number to many, I assure you, into two garbage bags and hopped into Avril's car. You'd never know one of the main functions of her job is chauffering kids around, as spotless as it is inside- no stains of any kind. If it was anyone's car but Avril's I'd be afraid to breathe, but since it was hers I had no problem.

I slung my bags into the back, grinning at her visible wince, and threw myself sloppily into the passenger seat, legs spread wide. I saw her eyeing my messy hair, baggy black T-shirt, and smirked to myself- I supposed I wasn't her idea of how a proper teen girl should dress. She ought to be grateful I hadn't dyed my hair black like I'd planned. I had bought the dye and everything, and even applied it to the tips of my hair to test it, but then I chickened out at the last minute and just dyed the ends black. So now I have brown hair with black tips- about the only interesting and unusual thing about my appearance. Other than that I'm of average height, weight, and ability in practically everything.

So anyway, I got in and asked her first thing if the Demarcos are rich. Of course I don't really care, but I like watching her purse her lips at me- it's impolite to talk about finances. So then I turned on her radio, and what do you know, Avril Lavigne's on, singing "Don't Tell Me". What are the chances? So I shouted, "Hey, Avril, it's your namesake and soul mate, other Avril!" and I turned it up loud. Avril gritted her teeth but didn't tell me to turn it down. She's so weird sometimes. She blushed when I asked her if she ever had the same problem as the girl in the song or if she was the one of the girls who did give it all away. Then she got all stuttery- gotta love Avril, I swear.

I think Avril was close to getting a migraine by the time we arrived at the Demarcos'. She certainly jumped out of the car fast enough, in a very undignified and unAvril-like way. She barely waited for me to stroll up beside her before leading me to the front door. I had been glad to see when we pulled up to the house that it wasn't a total dump, like some places I've lived at were. No random trash, cars, or Little Tyke crap in the yard or on the porch- and the porch wasn't collapsing. There wasn't any vicious chained dogs trying to bite my head off either. It was rather nice-looking actually- a good-sized white house in a suburban circle. Rather clichéd, especially for someone like me to live in. At least they probably weren't white trash, I thought, but then appearances could be deceiving. Then again, with a name like Demarco, they might not be white at all.

"Well here we are," Avril remarked- she is always full of dumb phrases like that which don't really mean anything at all. If I'd been in the mood, I would have challenged her, asking exactly what she meant by that- where else could we be but "here"? But I didn't bother. The truth was, I was a little nervous at meeting my new "family" in my new "home". No matter how many times I go through the same awkward procedure, I never quite grow accustomed to it. It's extremely uncomfortable for all concerned, especially me- I always feel like a puppy, the way they talk around me and look at me. It always takes a few days to find my niche again.

Avril rang the doorbell as we stepped to the front porch- eager to be rid of me, I thought in amusement. I waited, my stomach fluttering, swallowing nervously in an effort to clear my dry throat. I tried with little success to hide my idiotic garbage bags behind my back, or at least to make them less noticeable. But yeah, it's kind of hard to hide black bags sticking out from behind your legs, even if they're not the skinniest in the world.

It was several minutes before someone opened the door- it was as if they weren't expecting me, had forgotten I was coming or something. I was about to ring the bell again for Avril when the door opened suddenly, catching me by surprise. The woman who answered was taller than me, and thinner too- in fact, better looking all around, though she was in her late thirties. She had dark hair and eyes and carefully applied makeup, something else I never bother with, as I consider it a waste of money I rarely have in my hands. She was wearing baggy shorts and a loose V-necked T-shirt, as if she'd been running or something. Her eyes flitted quickly from me to Avril, and when she smiled, it was a brief flick of her lips that rather matched the way she looked at us.

"Hi… you must be the new girl. Mikayla," she said, her eyes still darting from Avril to me to the ground, to random things behind us. She never stared at anything for more than a second. It made me nervous, and yet fascinated me at the same time. I actually wanted to turn to see what so interested her behind me, but I managed to restrain myself. Was she nervous, or was she just a rather flighty and easily distracted person?

"Nicaela," I corrected. "Nicaela Reeves."

"I'm Penelope Demarco," she said. And that was all. She stood there, her eyes flicking around, and we stood there, looking at her. She didn't tell me to call her anything, or that I should come in, or anything- she just flicked her eyes. Great, I thought, nice start.

Avril had to clear her throat meaningfully, along with cocking an eyebrow and inclining her head to the door, before Penelope Demarco seemed to get the picture. I was stunned that she'd be so bold- surely that couldn't be polite and proper Avril Procedure. I must have really grated on her nerves earlier for her to be so eager to be rid of me.

"Oh!" Mrs. Demarco said, starting a little. "I guess you should come in…" She stepped back, and we followed her into a little hallway, then a dimly lit living room. There was a man sitting on the couch by a coffee table. He was large without really being fat, in his forties probably, with dark hair. He looked up at us as we entered, and a slow smile spread across his face as he looked Avril, then me, up and down. I was uncomfortable- I hate when people do that.

"Hey, Anton, Ms. LeFavre's here with her," Penelope muttered.

"I'm Nicaela," I mumbled.

Mr. Demarco got to his feet slowly, still smiling. I crossed my arms across my chest, shifting my weight awkwardly.

"Hello, Nicaela. What a pretty young lady you are- it's a pleasure to meet you. How old are you, fifteen, sixteen?"

"Sixteen," I said, the awkward feeling I was getting from looking at him increasing. His smile was too wide, too long in staying- it kind of creeped me out, honestly.

"A good age. Now, you can call me Anton, and call Penelope Penelope- none of that Mr. Demarco, Mrs. Demarco stuff when you're practically an adult already."

"Okay… Anton…" I mumbled. This would be weird, calling an adult by their first name not out of rebellion and amusement, but simply because they asked me to. None had ever wanted me to before.

Penelope didn't say anything through that exchange, just shifted around restlessly, almost like she had to pee or something. I was starting to watch her again when Avril said pointedly- "Perhaps you should call the other girls to come meet Nicaela, Mrs. Demarco?"

"Oh yeah- sure," and she cut herself off midsentence, turning toward the doorway. "Alexandra! Doral! Keegan! Your new foster sister's here!"

She fidgeted as we waited, her eyes still not resting on anything for longer than a second. Avril and I kept shifting around too, only Anton remaining still. His gaze, I noticed to my discomfort, didn't seem to be wavering from me, as a matter of fact. What was his problem?

Eventually I heard the careless, clomping footsteps of someone moving slowly, deliberately toward us. Whichever girl it was, she wasn't too eager to meet me. Well, the feeling was mutual to a degree…